MACON — The Wheeler Wildcats entered the season carrying expectations of winning a state championship. On Saturday they achieved that goal, winning their third title in four years and ninth overall.

Led by the combined 37 points from Southern Cal signees Isaiah Collier and Arrinten Page, Wheeler defeated a game Cherokee team 78-58 in the Class 7A final at the Macon Coliseum.

When it was finally over, Collier – the likely choice as Mr. Georgia Basketball – lay flat on the court for 15 seconds and later shared a lengthy embrace with coach Larry Thompson. It was that kind of emotional evening.

“This has been the hardest season of my life,” Collier said. “To end up with a state championship is great.”

The Wildcats ended the season 26-6 and defeated region rival Cherokee for the fourth time. The Wildcats also doused the title hopes of the Warriors, who were playing for a championship for the first time since 1982.

“To have a target on you,” Thompson said. “These guys want to be champions, they want to play college ball and they’ve got to understand it’s going to be like this every single night out.”

Wheeler began to break away late when it closed the first quarter on a 9-3 run to take a 22-12 lead. Cherokee got as close as five points by running off seven unanswered points early in the second quarter, only to have Wheeler counter with a 10-2 run to push the lead to 13. Wheeler led 39-28 at halftime.

“You’ve got to be disciplined and play defense,” senior Jelani Hamilton said. “That’s the way you’re going to win games.”

Cherokee got as close as eight points when Wheeler went on a 15-6 run to finish the third quarter. The highlight was an alley-oop dunk from Collier to Page, with Page swishing a 3-pointer for a 58-40 lead entering the four quarter.

Collier was 9-for-13 from the field with seven assists and Page was 7-for-9 with eight rebounds. Three others finished in double figures – Hamilton, Rickey McKenzie and Damion Mitchell Jr. Hamilton also had eight rebounds.

Cherokee (25-7) was led by Braylin Giddens with 17 points and six rebounds. Cameron Pope scored 12, Tayden Owens had 11 and Dastin Hart added 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals.

“We all knew what we were supposed to do,” Hamilton said. “This is nothing new at Wheeler High School. It’s just tradition at this point.”

Wheeler – 22-17-19-20 –78

Cherokee -- 12-16-12-18 --58

Wheeler (78): Damion Mitchell Jr. 11, Isaiah Collier 22, Rickey McKenzie 11, Jelani Hamilton 11, Arrinten Page 15, Calvino Stallworth, Kota Suttle Jr., Cameron Brown, Julian Ormond 2, Nathan Earl, Josh Hill 6, Malcom Stephney.

Cherokee (58): Dastin Hart 10, Cameron Pope 12, Tayden Owens 11, Mason Bennett 2, Braylin Giddens 17, Hayden Darko, Cayden Walsh, Hampton Cox, Nate Speaks, Lawrence Sanford 4, Ben Weiztenkom. (Two points were scored by Wheeler.)

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